KWS seeks millions from Procter & Gamble

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Author: GRAIN
Date: 25 August 2004
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GRAIN | 25 August 2004 | BIO-IPR (1997-2009)

TITLE: KWS Seeks Millions From Procter & Gamble -and- Extremophiles: They Like It Hot, Cold, Salty And Acid AUTHOR: John Mbaria PUBLICATION: The East African (Nairobi) DATE: 23 August 2004 URL: ional2408200452.html
and ional2408200422.html

The East African | Nairobi | 23 August 2004


The action could put a halt to illegal extraction of Kenya's biological resources, particularly those with huge industrial potential

By John Mbaria
Special Correspondent

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is seeking a share of the hundreds of millions of dollars generated from the sales of a popular detergent and a bleaching agent manufactured in the US whose active ingredients were acquired in Kenya illegally.

With assistance from scientists at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe), KWS has launched a claim for a share of the proceeds accruing to the US multinational giant Procter & Gamble and to Genencor International BV of the Netherlands with respect to the sales of Tide Alternative Bleach Detergent and "stonewashing" material.

According to information made available to The EastAfrican, Genencor was the company that discovered "extremophiles" (tiny organisms that are able to survive and thrive in extreme environmental conditions) in Kenya, cloned and later sold them to Procter & Gamble, which used them as critical ingredients in the manufacture of the detergent.

With research and genetic manipulation, scientists have not only isolated extremophiles in such extreme environments as hotsprings and geysers, but have also reproduced billions of their clones in laboratories (see separate story).

The claim by KWS is significant for Kenya not only because of the sheer amount of money involved, but also because it could put a halt to the illegal extraction of the country's biological resources, particularly the illegal traffic in tiny organisms with huge industrial potential.

According to the Deputy Director in-charge of Research and Development, Dr Richard Bagine, KWS has officially written to lawyers working for Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors (PIIPA) in the US to handle the matter on its behalf.

However, Dr Bagine said that at this early stage, KWS had not worked out what amount of royalties it will be asking for from the two companies.

"We hope to be guided by PIIPA lawyers, who are able to trace the accounts of these two companies ever since they put up the relevant products in the international market."

In a letter to the founder of PIIPA, Michael Govin, the head of Bioprospecting and Molecular Biology at Icipe, Dr Wilber Lwande, wrote, "PIIPA could first pursue Genencor International and Procter & Gamble for royalties from this discovery and (later) from any other possible discoveries associated with (the) Kenyan samples."

PIIPA is an international not-for-profit organisation whose lawyer-members offer free legal advice to disadvantaged indigenous communities on matters related to the protection of intellectual property rights.

The EastAfrican has also established that KWS is partly banking on the provisions of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which not only affirms the sovereign rights of signatories over the biological resources found within their territories, but also commits parties to "fair, equitable sharing of the benefits accruing from the utilisation of genetic resources."

Following extensive investigation and interviews with scientists working for the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Icipe and KWS and with members of the Kalenjin community living around Lake Bogoria, The EastAfrican has obtained details of how the samples were collected and shipped out of Kenya.

According to Dr Lwande, the samples were initially collected from a number of alkaline lakes located on the bed of the Great Rift Valley -- Bogoria, Magadi, Nakuru, Elementaita and Solai in Kenya, and Natron in Tanzania -- in 1998. However, the only samples that yielded positive results were from the hot geysers of Lake Bogoria and along the shores of Lake Nakuru.

The research expedition, which surprisingly seemed to have escaped KWS's attention then, involved scientists from Leicester University in Britain.

"We have evidence to indicate that the samples from which the discovery was made were obtained by Dr William E. Grant of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Leicester in the UK," Dr Lwande said.

It is also clear that Dr Grant did not work alone but was in a group of scientists who, though they went ahead to publish their results in the Extremophile Journal of the UK in 1998, did not have any authorisation from KWS.

"We do not have records showing that the scientists had notified KWS nor any indication that they had acquired a research permit from the Ministry of Education before embarking on the sampling," said Dr Bagine, who added that although the Education Ministry is normally mandated to issue such permits, KWS is empowered to vet proposals made by researchers working in Kenya's protected areas.

It has also emerged that the group of Leicester University scientists was accompanied by an employee of Genencor, Brian Jones.

"After samples were collected from Lake Bogoria, Brian Jones of Genencor International purchased the samples from Dr Grant and made an enzyme discovery that Genencor later sold to Procter & Gamble," Dr Lwande said. He added that the particular enzyme was then used as a critical ingredient in the (manufacture) of Tide Alternative Bleach detergent."

What remains mysterious, though, is who, probably within KWS or the Baringo County Council -- which manages the Lake Bogoria National Reserve together with the Koibatek County Council -- had given the researchers protection. Attempts by The EastAfrican to get the names of the local officials involved did not yield results.

Dr Lwande said that he alerted members of the former KWS board close to three years ago over the matter, "but for whatever reason the board did not take any action."

The KWS board was then headed by a former attorney general, Charles Njonjo, who was deputised by Dr Richard Leakey.

Procter & Gamble was established as a soap and candle company by the Americans William Procter and James Gamble in 1837. Though the two started it as a family business after being prompted by their common father-in law -- they had married sisters, Olivia and Elizabeth Norris -- it has grown over the past 167 years to become a $38 billion outfit as of March 31 this year. Its more than 300 products have a consumer base of about five billion people worldwide and are on sale in 140 countries.

And although the company launched the original Tide detergent in 1946, it has over the years come up with a host of brands bearing the name Tide. A statement posted on its website,,
says that Tide has remained its flagship, retaining its popularity because of its "superior" washing quality and "innovations" that have helped it to remain the company's single largest brand.

For its part, Genencor International Inc is a biotechnology company with an annual turnover of $380 million. It has offices in California and New York in the US and in the town of Leiden in the Netherlands.

In a number of annual reports, Genencor has stated that its scientists discovered the extremophile from which they developed an easy-to-use enzyme that can treat denim (jeans) to create the popular "stonewash" look, in Kenya.

A message posted on its website,,
reads, "In 1998, we commercialised an extremophile enzyme, Puradax cellulase, derived from a new Bacillus species found in the Rift Valley soda lakes of East Africa." It adds that Genencor had also introduced Indiage neutra, an enzyme derived from a bacterium that was isolated from the soda mud flats on the shores of the highly alkaline Lake Nakuru in Kenya.

In addition, its 2000 Annual Report says, "To find the enzymes that flourish in alkaline environments, like your Saturday wash water, and enzymes that give your jeans a softer feel and a stonewashed look, we looked for them, that's right, in the soda lakes of Kenya."

The two companies have a long-standing commercial relationship that was strengthened after signing a $600 million five-year supply contract.

According to a statement he made during the launch of Genencor's 2000 Annual Report, the vice president in charge of research and development at Procter, Dr Nahil Sakkah, said this relationship had resulted in "Genencor delivering innovative biotechnology-based solutions to Procter & Gamble for over 18 years."

But although the two multibillion dollar companies have been patting each other on the shoulder over this evidently mutually-beneficial partnership, the people of Kenya -- and particularly the community living around Lake Bogoria -- have not seen a single cent from the millions of dollar generated from the sales of these products.

During a visit to Lake Bogoria last week, a former councillor for Kipkuikui Ward, Samuel Kipket, told The EastAfrican that as true owners of Lake Bogoria, the local community has never benefited from the many researches going on there: "We are not even told of the nature of the researches conducted by foreigners."

The manager of the WWF-Lake Bogoria Community Based Wetlands Project, Fabian Musila, said, "A lot of research activities have taken place here but apart from reading the findings in international journals, none of the findings are ever communicated to authorities in Kenya."

He however blames this on lack of an effective research policy that would allow for the monitoring and assessment of the importance such research has to the country and its people.

Mr Musila further said that, in the past two years, Lake Bogoria has hosted numerous researchers from Ruetigart University in the US, the Darwin Initiative, Earthwatch International, University of Japan, University of Arizona and Leicester University.

The East African | Nairobi | 23 August 2004


By John Mbaria
Special Correspondent

Some are buried in the ordinary garden soil. Some stick to heat vents in volcanic landscapes. Others find comfort within East Africa's hot geysers.

But though their ability and sheer determination to live in the harshest of environments boggles the human mind, these tiny living organisms have a commercial potential that can only be imagined by East Africans.

Their common name, extremophiles, tells it all: They are micro-organisms with the ability to survive in such extremes of temperature as 113 degrees centigrade or in highly-concentrated acidic broths that would literally consume human tissue.

Others just love salt and prefer to live in extremely saline lakes. Yet others are cold-loving, inhabiting polar seas and soils and Alpine glaciers.

It is also common to find extremophiles in areas that combine a number of these stress factors; for instance, high temperatures and acidic conditions.

Extremophiles, scientists at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) say, are named after the conditions in which they exist, so that those that prefer to live in acidic solutions are called acidophiles, while those found in alkaline areas are called alkaliphiles.

There are also halophiles, psychrophiles and thermophiles for saline, cold and hot places, respectively.

A famous example of a heat-loving organism with a high commercial value is a bacterium called Thermus aquaticus discovered in the late 1960s at hot springs in the Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, in the US.

James Kabii of Icipe says that once it was found that the bacterium was capable of producing the enzyme TaqDNA Polymerase, US scientists went ahead to develop the universally-famous DNA finger-printing technique that is now widely used to fight crime.

Traditionally, the process of developing industrial applications is said to have been "difficult and highly-expensive." It required testing numerous samples, taking care that their extreme lifestyles are not interrupted before isolating the potentially useful extremophiles.

But now recombinant DNA technology (or the artificial creation of DNA from two or more sources) allows "microbial prospecting," a technique that involves obtaining a sample gene from extremophiles and cloning them for use in the manufacture of necessary proteins.

This technique has been applied by medical researchers and industrialists to exploit the biotechnological potential associated with extremophiles. Mr Kabii says that, from a commercial perspective, enzymes from extremophiles ­ known as extremozymes ­ have made the greatest economic impact so far. He gives the example of alkaline proteases, which are applied as protein-degrading additives in detergents.

Today, enzyme production for detergents constitutes approximately 30 per cent of total enzymes produced worldwide and is said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Others are cellulase, which is used to soften fibres in jeans in order to create the "stonewash" effect. Acid-tolerant enzymes are used as additives for animal feeds. The latter are said to make it easier for livestock to digest grains.

Extremophiles, Mr Kabii says, can also be applied in the development of bacteria-based drugs. Here, scientists look for the chemicals within the relevant bacterium that are able to kill other bacteria (antibodies). Indeed, all the current anti-bodies are natural products or minor variants of natural products.

Mr Kabii says that with so many bacteria still undiscovered, "it seems all but certain that there are more drugs waiting to be found, buried in anything from thermal vents to garden soil." Finding them, he says, is easier than trial-and-error testing of chemicals made by humans.

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